If you're planning to start a business, naming it will be crucial to developing your brand. A name represents who you are and what you do and can be a powerful marketing tool. But once you've settled on the perfect name, you need to take steps to protect it.
One way to do that is to trademark your business name. Knowing how to trademark a name will protect your brand from intellectual property theft. After all, you don't want your hard work to be confused with another company.
The process of trademarking a name may seem daunting, but with a little advice, it can be relatively straightforward. Here you'll learn everything you need to know about how to trademark a business name.
What is a trademark?
A trademark is a sign that distinguishes the goods or services of one trader from those of another. It can be a word, phrase, logo or other symbol used to identify your business. A trademark symbol is a way to protect your brand identity. It sets your business apart from the competition and helps customers identify your products or services.
There are two main categories of trademarks: registered and unregistered trademarks. A registered trademark enjoys national recognition and has more federal protection. An unregistered trademark is protected and recognized only in a specific area. Trademarks are registered with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the federal agency responsible for intellectual property rights.
Steps for trademarking a name
Trademarking a name is quite straightforward. Even so, you should approach each step carefully and remember that a trademark application doesn’t guarantee approval since your application will go through a thorough review. If the USPTO rejects your application, the fees you paid are non-refundable. These are the steps you need to take to trademark a name.
Ensure the name you want to trademark isn’t already taken
Before applying for a trademark, ensure that no one else has registered a similar name. Any similarity will invalidate your application efforts because the USPTO can’t allow two companies to have the same or similar names.
This is why a trademark search comes in handy. The USPTO has a database of trademarks, both registered and pending. You can use the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) to conduct a USPTO trademark search in the database.
A trademark attorney can help you conduct a more thorough search, as professional searches go beyond the regular USPTO trademark database. The attorney can also check common law trademarks, state trademarks, foreign trademarks and pending applications to minimize the risk of applying for an already registered trademark and avoiding an expensive mistake.
Complete the trademark application
Once you've confirmed your chosen name is available, you can proceed with the trademark application. Start by filling out the application form, which you can find on the USPTO website.
To complete the application, you'll need to provide personal details such as the name and address of the entity applying for a trademark, whether the entity is an individual or a business.
Your application should also include the name of the service or product that the trademarked name will cover, which requires you to describe the product or service and its class. The Trademark ID manual on the USPTO’s website makes it easy for you to find the right class for your offering.
If you find a description that fits your products and services in the description column, you can copy it verbatim. Alternatively, you can curate your own narrative.
Submit the application to the USPTO
The next step is submitting your application to the USPTO. You’ll find two filing options using the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS).
One is TEAS Plus, which is more affordable but not available to everyone. To use this option, you must use one of the standard descriptions for your goods and services as depicted in the Trademark ID manual.
But if the description for your goods and services is not available in the manual and you have to come up with your own, your only filing option is the TEAS Standard, which is costlier.
Types of trademarks
Now that you know how to trademark a name, it’s time to understand the different trademarks. Here are some of the most common types of trademarks.
A generic trademark represents day-to-day descriptions of products or the entity selling them. These are usually common words like ice cream, food or shoes. The USPTO doesn’t approve trademark applications for such generic terms because they are public and no one can claim ownership over them.
For instance, a shoe seller cannot trademark the word “shoe” as such would cause an unfair monopoly over the entire shoe industry. If you want the name to have a generic mark, you should add a modifier exclusive to your product.
A descriptive trademark is a name that describes a quality or characteristic of the product, but it should do more than just describe a company’s product. It should have a secondary meaning, as the USPTO will decline applications for these trademarks if they lack this aspect.
For instance, a restaurant can’t apply to trademark the word “yummy.” Instead, it should prove that the word has a secondary meaning associated with its business. In such a case, the USPTO is likelier to approve the trademark application for this word.
A suggestive trademark is a name that hints at the features or qualities of the product without explicitly describing them. These names are usually easy to trademark as they require some imagination from the consumer to understand the connection between the product and the name.
To determine if a name is suggestive, ask yourself if the connection between the product and the name is immediately apparent. If it isn’t, then it’s likely that the USPTO will approve your trademark application.
A fanciful trademark is a made-up word that has no relation to the product. These are usually easy to trademark as they are exclusive to the company. Even if another business sells a similar product, it can’t use the same fanciful trademark. For instance, Google, Kodak and Exxon are all fanciful trademarks.
An arbitrary trademark is a real word with no relation to the product. These are usually strong trademarks, as they are easy for consumers to remember. However, it can be challenging to trademark an arbitrary name as it must be unique enough to distinguish your product from others.
For instance, Apple is an arbitrary trademark for computers. While the word “apple” has no connection to computers, it’s still a unique and memorable name that sets the company apart from its competitors.
What to expect after you file
After filing, you’ll get a receipt containing a serial number for future reference. The USPTO will then send your filing to a patent attorney who reviews it. The attorney will send you an office action if the review reveals issues with your application. The office action could be a request for more information or an outright rejection of your application.
You should file a response to the office action within six months of the action’s issue date. If you don’t file a response or the USPTO doesn’t accept your response, your application will expire and the office will abandon it. In this case, you'll have to start the process all over again.
If the application requirements are met and the information presented is satisfactory, however, the examining attorney will approve your trademark and publish it in an online journal. At this stage, anyone can oppose your trademark within three months of the publication date.
In the event of opposition, you should hire a trademark attorney to help you navigate the process. Their knowledge of trademark law should increase your chances of winning against the opposition.
If there’s no opposition or you win the case, your trademark will be registered, and you'll receive a certificate. You can now start using the ® symbol next to your trademark. Note that the entire trademarking process usually takes 12 to 18 months.
Trademark vs. copyright vs. patent vs. DBA
As a business owner, you're likely to own a trademark, copyright, patent or DBA. While all of them offer intellectual property protection by giving you exclusive rights to something, they differ in scope and duration.
A trademark is a name, phrase, logo or symbol that identifies your brand and its offerings. It distinguishes your business from competitors and ensures no one uses your mark.
A copyright protects your original expression of an idea. It can be a literary, musical or artistic work. To copyright your work, it must exist on a digital or physical medium, such as film, a digital file or paper. The copyright gives you the exclusive right to use your work in various ways. You can reproduce the work, perform it, distribute its copies, create other works based on it or display it.
A patent is a government-issued exclusive right to make, sell and use an invention for a certain period. The invention can be a product, process or machine. Patents must also comply with legally-defined requirements such as novelty, usefulness, and non-obviousness.
A DBA or “doing business as” is a fictitious name you can use to conduct business. Your DBA is different from the name you use as a business owner or from your registered name.
How much does it cost to trademark a name?
The cost of trademarking a business in the U.S. ranges between $250 and $400 per class. This initial trademark application cost depends on the selected filing option. The TEAS Plus is the cheapest at $250 per class of goods or services, while the TEAS Standard option can cost up to $400 per class.
The application cost may be higher if you select two or more trademark classes. It may also increase if you submit your trademark’s drawing during the application. While the drawing can range from simple to sophisticated, it should meet the requirements set by the USPTO.
You’ll also need to pay additional fees if you use an attorney.
How long does a trademark registration last?
After your first trademark registration, the USPTO protects the name for six years. However, to maintain your trademark registration you need to submit proof that you have continued to use the trademark commercially. You must file the required documents between the fifth and sixth year after the initial registration, and every succesive ten years after that.
This means you should file your subsequent renewals between the ninth and tenth years after the first renewal. Failure to renew the trademark before the deadline results in its expiration or cancellation.
Alternative protections for your business name
While a trademark is the best way to protect your business name, there are other ways to do it, such as using a DBA or incorporating your business.
A DBA can help you brand your business and distinguish it from others in the same space. You'll need to file for a DBA if you’re conducting business under a different name from your legal one. Filing for a DBA is cheaper and easier than trademarking a name and you can do it yourself without the help of an attorney. The process will also be faster since you don’t have to go through the USPTO.
Incorporating your business can also help you ensure the legal protection of your business name. This is because when you incorporate, your business becomes its own separate legal identity. As such, the business owner gains some protection against debts, lawsuits, and other liabilities.
Do you need a trademark for your business?
Yes, it would be best to trademark your business name to get exclusive rights to use it. This will help you protect your brand and distinguish it from others in the same space. A trademark also gives you legal recourse in the event of trademark infringement.
Trademark your business name today
Learning how to trademark a name is a key step in protecting your business. A trademark will give you exclusive rights to use your business name and logo while distinguishing your business from others in a competitive market. Trademarking a name can be costly and time-consuming, but it’s worth it in the long run.